University Press of Kentucky To Publish My First Book

After six long years, I am pleased to announce that the University Press of Kentucky will publish my first book, Remembering War as Murder: The Battle of the Crater.  Yesterday I received an email indicating that the manuscript received the unanimous approval and enthusiastic support of the press’s editorial board.  The book will appear in their series, New Directions in Southern History, which is edited by Peter Carmichael, Michelle Gillespie, and William Link.  If everything goes as planned the book should be available by Spring 2012.

I am looking forward to working with Kentucky during what will no doubt be a hectic next few months, but I am already confident that they are going to do a first-rate job.  Back in 2007 I published a chapter in a book of essays on Civil War soldiers edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean and I have another piece that is slated to appear in the final volume of their Virginia at War series, edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis.

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The Real Price of Forgetting the Past (Continued)

Dixie Outfitters t-shirt

In response to my last post in which I suggested that public historians have reason to feel good about the seismic interpretive shifts that can be seen in our museum’s and other historical institutions John Hennessy offers the following:

As it relates to the supply-side of the equation, I think there is little doubt that there is something to your and Pete’s declaration of victory. But on the consumer side–not entirely. Anyone would be hard-pressed to declare to the front-line staff on an NPS battlefield site that the issue of disputed memory/history/heritage/tradition is settled in the public’s mind. There HAS been great progress, and we see evidence of that on a regular basis, but we also see evidence of discord literally every day. And then, too, there is the issue the entrenched disconnect between the public history of the Civil War and the African-American community. As has often been said, history doesn’t turn the page, only historians do. [my emphasis]

I think John is absolutely right and this is an issue that came up a few times during the conference in Raleigh, but it didn’t receive nearly enough attention.  My paper attempted to sketch some of the challenges that the National Park Service in Petersburg face in attracting African Americans and the local community to the battlefield.  I am in now way suggesting that NPS historians need to spend their time generating plans on how to go about attracting any one group of Americans.  I’m not even sure how one would go about this.  At the same time and given their location within a predominantly black community I do believe that the NPS does have a responsibility to be sensitive to the extent to which decisions made within its own institution and beyond served to alienate African Americans from a landscape that figured prominently in a narrative that traced the transition from slavery to freedom.

It is clear to me that public historians need to spend much more time coming to terms with the myriad ways in which Americans approach their past.  With all of the attention being paid to how little Americans supposedly know about the past, it would be much more helpful to try to better understand why so many of us feel drawn to the past.  [One useful source is Roy Rozensweig’s and Thelen’s, The Presence of the Past.]  A new YouTube video interview of H.K. Edgerton by the Sons of Confederate Veterans points to just how important this is if we hope to offer an interpretation of the past that responds to the needs of various consumers of history.  I’ve written extensively about H.K. and while I find him to be quite entertaining it would be a big mistake to dismiss him without considering his core message.  I find it very difficult to follow much of his thinking about slavery, Reconstruction, the Klan, and Nathan Bedford Forrest in this video.  Frankly, I don’t get the sense that H.K. has read much history at all.

Continue reading “The Real Price of Forgetting the Past (Continued)”

Earl Hess’s Crater

The new issue of Civil War Book Review is now available, which includes my review of Earl Hess’s new book, Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg (University of South Carolina Press, 2010).  I think we can safely say that we’ve seen enough military studies of the battle of the Crater over the past few years.  They run the gamut from detailed tactical studies to thoughtful commentary about the significance of the racial component of the battle.  Earl Hess’s new book belongs somewhere in the middle.  Not surprisingly, his book is the best overall study of the battle.  I’ve had the opportunity to review three recent Crater studes: Alan Axelrod, The Horrid Pit [Journal of Southern History], John F. Schmutz, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History [H-Net], and Richard Slotkin, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864 [Civil War Book Review].

Over the past two decades Earl J. Hess has established himself as one of the foremost authorities of Civil War military history. He has done so with award-winning studies of the experiences of the common soldier, battles such as Pea Ridge and Gettysburg, and (in the opinion of this writer) one of the finest brigade histories ever written. In recent years Hess has added to this list with a history of the rifle musket and a 3-volume study of the evolution and influence of earthworks on the war in the Eastern Theater. Rather than rehash the standard narratives, readers have come to expect that Hess will challenge many of their deep-seated assumptions about the war. In the case of his most recent study of the battle of the Crater that task is made more difficult given the publication of four books of varying degrees of quality over the past five years.

The increased attention to the Crater over the past few years stems from both the 2003 release of the movie, Cold Mountain, which featured a vivid recreation of the battle, as well as broader resurgence of interest in the final year of the war and the Petersburg Campaign specifically. The lack of scholarly attention has left us with an overly simplistic view of the battle that has tended to focus on the spectacle of the early-morning detonation of 8,000 pounds of explosives under a Confederate salient followed by a futile Union assault. Into the Crater offers a necessary corrective to many of the finer points of the story as well as to assumptions that fundamentally alter the way we understand the evolution of the campaign, the battle, and its outcome – both of which serve to move us away from what appears to be a tragedy in the making.  [Read the rest of the Review.]

Capturing the Horror of the Crater

Over the past few years I’ve seen a wide range of images of the battle of the Crater.  Once I tidy up a few loose ends in my Crater manuscript I am going to turn to making a decision about illustrations for the book.  I am planning to include images that give the reader a sense of the drastic changes that have taken place to the physical landscape as well as how various illustrators have come to terms with the battle itself.  Yesterday I spent some time in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which features a wonderful exhibit of Civil War drawings from the Becker Collection.  The collection includes sketches of various aspects of camp life and battle that were done for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.  Eventually, I came across, Andrew McCallum’s sketch of the Crater.  I’ve never seen the original so the longer I stared the more difficult it was to walk away.  The detail is incredible and he really does capture the horror of the battle.  This one stands a good chance of making it into the book.

Update on Crater Manuscript

Update: I just agreed to do my first book signing in Chicago at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop. Of course, the date has yet to be determined. This is shaping up to be a pretty good weekend.

I am pleased to report that Remembering War As Murder: The Battle of the Crater took a giant leap forward yesterday toward publication.  As many of you know back in August I submitted a revised manuscript to the publisher after responding to extensive comments by three anonymous reviewers.  All of them provided a healthy dose of criticism and suggestions for improving the overall manuscript.  Following the resubmission I was told that the manuscript would be sent to one of the original reviewers as well as a new outside reader.  A few weeks ago I heard from the first reviewer, who gave it the green light and yesterday I received a copy of the second report.  The reviewer was incredibly enthusiastic and concluded that the book, “stands to make a real and lasting contribution to the field of Civil War Memory studies.”  That’s music to my ears.  Both reviewers pointed out a few minor things to address, which I will take care of over the next few weeks.  I’ve been working with a university press, which is why the process is perhaps a bit more involved than usual. Let me just say that it’s been worth it. The peer review process once again served me well and no doubt saved me from a few errors and helped to point out ways to make my argument even stronger.  The final step will be to present the manuscript to the publisher’s board of editors in May.  In addition to making these final changes I am also putting together a list of possible photographs as well as a few ideas for the cover.  I would love to have the famous John Elder image of the Crater on one side and Don Troiani’s recent print of Mahone’s Charge.  The two images beautifully capture the central theme of the book, which is the evolution of how Americans remembered the racial aspect of the battle.

This will be my first book and like every author I hope it sells well.  The reviewer quoted above also suggested that the book will likely be used in college classrooms and be attractive to Civil War enthusiasts as well.  That’s a positive sign, but how many academic titles have been marketed as having the potential to bridge these two communities?  I assume that most people who publish with university presses don’t expect their book to break into mainstream readership.  In my case, however, it will be very interesting to see the extent to which my Online presence will push sales.  Yesterday I offered a brief update on the status of the manuscript on my Facebook page and within a few hours I had over 40 people express their enthusiasm.  A number of people emailed me to let them know when the book is available for pre-order.  I am going to go out on a limb here to suggest that this may be the first academic history title to come out of a strong social media presence.  As many of you know much of this project was discussed at one point or another on this blog and many of you offered assistance through your thoughtful comments and offers to share your own research materials.  What I am suggesting is that many of you have become invested in this project for one reason or another and I have every reason to expect that this will translate into additional sales.

It’s too early to tell, but I may have stumbled upon not only a legitimate method of vetting my ideas with a large audience, but in turning that interest eventually into a book sale.  Stay tuned.